Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Story Isn’t The Story

Rachel Maddow came in for some criticism yesterday for, in the words of one totally not-jealous pundit, “overselling” her story on getting hold of two pages of Trump’s 2005 tax returns.  I saw more headlines about how she allowed the White House the chance to bigfoot her scoop and release the documents (and give Trump the bizarre opportunity to tweet that what the White House said was his real return was actually “fake news”).  The result was that more folks were talking about what Rachel Maddow did than the real story: Trump still hasn’t released all of his taxes, and those that he has paint him in a false light.

Actually the real story should also be that the press, either through laziness or fear of an early-morning tweetstorm, isn’t doing its job, and when one member of the press does what closely resembles her duty, she gets cat-called for it by members of her own profession.

This is ridiculous.  In this country where the press is one of the few human endeavors that is specifically protected from government intrusion in the Constitution, there should be an awareness of the duty the press has in our democracy.  It isn’t just reporting the news, it’s holding us — all of us — accountable regardless of the person or personality delivering the news.

Charlie Pierce:

There is a line of thought, beloved of the clergy of that which Jay Rosen calls The Church of the Savvy, that holds that this whole thing was a clever scam by the White House—and, indeed, that the administration may have been the source of the leak. But overrating the cleverness of this crowd has become reflexive. A lot of what they’ve done is just stupid, their efforts at spin control an insult to the memory of Michael Deaver, and their strategy roughly on the level of, as President Jed once put it, “Hey, your shoe’s untied!” Chief among these explanations is the notion that this was meant to be a distraction from the other bad news engulfing the White House on the subjects of healthcare and whatever-the-hell James Comey is going to say next.

However, if the distraction argument is true, then it is a massive dereliction of duty on the part of the members of the media who make it true. In essence, coming from anyone in this business, the distraction argument denies that the media has any agency in what it covers. If you are an editor—or a reporter—and you decide that a story is a shiny object, then don’t cover it. Or, at the very least, don’t emphasize it. The decision by the elite political media to make Hillary Rodham Clinton’s email server a central issue in the campaign was a deliberate choice. It wasn’t forced on them by anyone or anything. If you can choose to emphasize something, you can choose not to do that. If you can choose to concentrate on HRC’s email practices, you can choose not to concentrate on what you judge to be obvious diversions from the White House.

Do your freaking job.

The idea that the safety and security of our country — and the reporting of the state of the union — is devolving to middle-school-level squabbling and preening is not just alarming.  It’s dangerous.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sunday Reading

Do Your Job, Media — Sophia A. McClennen in Salon on the press caving to Trump’s propaganda.

On Nov. 13, 1969, then Vice President Spiro Agnew passionately denounced television news broadcasters as a biased “unelected elite” who subjected President Richard M. Nixon’s speeches to instant analysis. Disagreeing with the views expressed by broadcasters like Walter Cronkite, Agnew argued that the president had a “right” to communicate directly with the people without having his words “characterized through the prejudices of hostile critics.” When Agnew went on to call for greater government regulation of the media’s “virtual monopoly” on public information, Cronkite responded that such a call was “an implied threat to freedom of speech in this country.”

Sound familiar?

Many have argued that President Donald Trump’s administration has borrowed heavily from the Nixon-Agnew playbook. Trump referenced the “silent majority” throughout his campaign — a term that Nixon popularized in a 1969 speech. When Trump repeatedly attacks the press, calling the media the “enemy of the people,” it’s easy to hear echoes of Agnew.

But while members of the Trump team draw on their predecessors, it would be a mistake to see a complete pattern match. One can only wonder what would have happened if Nixon had access to Twitter and we can only guess at the possibility of a Nixon-era Steve Bannon in the White House. While tabloid news like that found in the National Enquirer has a much longer history than today’s alt-news, we never have had such an open and obvious propaganda machine coming out of the White House.

Agnew referred to the press as an “unelected elite.” Trump’s chief strategist Bannon raised him one and has described the press as the “opposition party.” Trump’s endless press slurs are too numerous to even list. And these are just the open and public attacks. As Carole Cadwalladr has chillingly recounted for The Guardian, the backstory is the way that big-data billionaire and Trump supporter Robert Mercer is waging war on the mainstream media. According to her, his goal is nothing short of changing the way the entire nation thinks.

The Trump attacks on the press are not just Nixon 2.0. In fact, they literally have no historical precedent.

Here’s the thing, though: These attacks should actually be good news for the press. Recall that well before Trump had any idea he was going to win, the public’s trust in the press was at an all-time low. A Gallup poll from September 2016 showed that Americans’ trust and confidence in the mass media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly” had dropped to the lowest level in Gallup polling history, with only 32 percent of those polled saying they had a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media. That number was down 8 percentage points from 2015.

Given the clearly unhinged ways that Trump, Bannon, press secretary Sean Spicer and senior adviser Kellyanne Conway make things up, attack critics and fumble with even basic parts of speech, the press should be having a field day. Then there is the ongoing question of Trump’s endless conflicts of interest. Add to that the blatant disregard for civil rights, the selection of Cabinet members who generally hate the mission of the departments they lead, the basic disrespect for any system of checks and balances, and it seems clear that the press should be well on its way to regaining public trust.

Trump is literally dismantling government before our eyes while spitting on the First Amendment. It’s an easy story to go after and it should be turning the press into our hero.

So far it’s not.

Sure, there is lots of good investigative reporting coming from independent news sources and even from some mainstream outlets, but the Trump era shows no signs of a Bob Woodward or a Carl Bernstein. And no one on mainstream television news comes close to Cronkite.

Remember when Stephen Colbert roasted President George W. Bush at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner in 2006? At that time news media outlets had largely swallowed the narrative offered them by the Bush administration. So Colbert chose to use his speech to roast the media as much as Bush. He started off saying, “Over the last five years you people were so good, over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn’t want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out.”

Colbert reminded his listeners that the media had simply failed to fact-check the White House as the Bush administration led us into war, denied climate change and lowered taxes on the rich. He riffed on the idea that it seemed as if all media outlets did was repeat what the press secretary told them. He mocked media organizations, saying all they had to do was put White House comments “through a spell-check and go home.”

Colbert chastised the news media: “Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration? You know, fiction!”

If we weren’t watching carefully, we might think that today’s press has finally listened to Colbert.

But certainly this is a news media that doesn’t take everything press secretary Spicer says to be fact. If anything, the opposite is true. The news media seems ready to pounce on any and everything coming out of the White House.

That is just one of the many ways that the press is blowing it.

As Jon Stewart illustrated brilliantly in a cameo for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” the press needs to “break up with Trump.” Despite the existence of what seems to be investigative reporting, what we really have is a mainstream press obsessed with each and every little thing Trump does.

Why does CNN report on Trump using tape to hold down a tie? Why does ABC follow his rants about Arnold Schwarzenegger? And how does the Associated Press defend publishing the email addresses of Mike Pence and his wife? It may not have been meant as doxing, but it certainly isn’t good journalism.

This means that when the White House chief of staff, Reince Preibus, goes after news media outlets and accuses them of “acting like Washington daily gossip magazines,” there is sadly too much truth to what he says.

The point is that members of the mainstream press have a chance to rescue their image and offer the public the truth in the midst of the most outrageously dishonest administration in history. Instead, they seem to be favoring the exact same sort of fear-based, hyperbolic, spectacle-heavy reporting we had during the Bush years.

To make it worse, even when news outlets cover an important story, they literally bury the lede. Rather than open stories on Trump by pointing out that he is once again going off the rails, they open with details of the actual rant.

Consider, for example, Trump’s baseless accusation that Obama wiretapped him. The Washington Post ran an AP story with this headline: “Trump Accuses Obama of Tapping His Phones, Cites No Evidence.” When CNN ran the story, it opened with Trump’s claims and captured Trump’s tweets. It was only after several paragraphs that CNN reported quotes from experts who dismissed Trump’s accusations.

The point, as Gleb Tsipursky, an Ohio State University professor, has argued, is that only those who read deep into a story will get the true picture. Meanwhile the 6 in 10 who read only headlines will come away believing false information. He explained, “Thinking errors will cause the majority of Americans to develop a mistaken impression of Trump’s wiretapping claims as legitimate, despite the lack of evidence.”

Another key problem is the accusation that the media is biased against Trump. Every single member of the Trump team makes this claim. In response, we see the mainstream news media attempt to suggest impartiality and ensure “balance” by assembling panels of experts with  opposing views.

But it is not the news media’s job to be neutral; its job is to report the truth.

Before we wait for the press to pull itself together and offer the public the reporting that’s needed, we would do well to remember that it may well be the case that we can thank the mainstream news media for Trump’s win.

As Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy reported in December, the press failed U.S. voters. The center found most coverage had been negative in tone and light on policy. An earlier study showed that in 2015 Trump received disproportionate coverage in the press, given his low status in the polls. During the primaries, Trump’s coverage was also generally positive in tone, and he received far more “good press” than “bad press.”

The Shorenstein center concluded that the volume and tone of the coverage helped propel Trump to the top of polls of Republicans: “Journalists seemed unmindful that they and not the electorate were Trump’s first audience.” And the center also pointed out that “Trump exploited their lust for riveting stories” and referred to Trump as the first “bona fide media-created presidential nominee.”

It turns out that the story of Trump as a whirling dervish of insanity may well perfectly fit the mainstream media’s desire for click-bait. But simply covering the next Trump meltdown is not what we need. What we need is accurate and fearless reporting of the issues that are important for the health of our democracy.

Rather than ask news media outlets to go after Trump, we should pressure them to follow Cronkite’s playbook and go after the truth.

How Trumpcare Will Make the Opioid Epidemic Worse — Julia Lurie in Mother Jones.

During his campaign, President Donald Trump said his supporters were “always” bringing up one issue: the opioid epidemic. “We’re going to take all of these kids—and people, not just kids—that are totally addicted and they can’t break it,” he promised at a Columbus, Ohio town hall meeting last August. “We’re going to work with them, we’re going to spend the money, we’re gonna get that habit broken.”

Yet in the midst of the largest drug epidemic in the nation’s history, the Republican plan to replace Obamacare threatens to cut insurance coverage for mental health and addiction treatment for millions of Americans. The effect, public health advocates worry, would be to further decrease access to substance abuse treatment at a time when drug overdoses are claiming more 50,000 American lives per year—more than car accidents or gun violence.

Their concerns with the Republican plan to repeal Obamacare, titled the American Health Care Act, fall into two broad categories: The legislation limits who qualifies for public insurance, and it eliminates the requirement that many insurance plans cover substance abuse and mental health treatment.

Freezing Medicaid expansion

One of the most significant (and controversial) parts of Obamacare was a provision that expanded Medicaid to millions more poor Americans. Under the Affordable Care Act, those who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible for this government-funded insurance program. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that states could choose whether or not they wanted to participate in the program, and 31 states have done so—resulting in health coverage for an additional 11 million Americans through Medicaid expansion. Of those, an estimated 1.3 million used their newly acquired insurance for substance abuse or mental health services, according to an analysis by researchers Richard Frank of Harvard Medical School and Sherry Glied of New York University.

The Republicans’ health care plan would freeze Medicaid expansion, cutting off funds for states adding new enrollees starting in 2020. Those already enrolled in Medicaid expansion plans by 2020 would continue to receive the benefits, but they would be at constant risk of losing that insurance. Anyone who has a gap in insurance coverage of more a month—say because they miss a deadline or their income temporarily changes—would lose eligibility. (A lack of private health insurance would be penalized too: Going more than 63 days without coverage would increase premiums by 30 percent for a year.) These provisions have a lot of public health advocates worried. It’s not uncommon for people, particularly those with serious mental health and addiction problems, to drift in and out of insurance coverage.

Eliminating “essential” services

Under Obamacare, insurers are required to offer so-called “essential health benefits,” including mental health and substance abuse services. In order to sell insurance, insurers have to cover addiction treatment. (Other essential benefits currently include contraception, preventative care, and emergency services—here’s the full list). That set of guarantees also applied to how states must structure their Medicaid programs.

The GOP plan would remove the entire package of essential benefit requirements, including mental health and substance abuse treatment, from Medicaid expansion insurance, as well as from some other Medicaid plans. Starting in 2020, each state could choose whether the insurance offered by Medicaid would include these benefits. Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.), an outspoken critic of the legislation, pressed GOP lawyers on the matter on Wednesday:

Medicaid, which provides insurance coverage for more than 70 million Americans, is the largest payer for addiction services across the country. Eliminating a chunk of that funding could be particularly crippling for many of the communities that voted Trump into office, notes Keith Humphreys, a Stanford University psychiatry professor who advised the Obama administration on drug policy.

West Virginia and Ohio, for example, have some of the highest rates of opioid overdoses in the country. In those states, which both adopted Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, Medicaid pays for more than 40 percent of the cost of buprenorphine, a life-saving opioid addiction medication. “This will hurt the worst in the places that supported these politicians the most,” says Humphreys. “They voted in this Congress that is now going to stick a knife in them.”

Sucker Punched — John Cassidy in The New Yorker on Trump’s phony populism.

Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House Majority Leader, went on Sean Hannity’s show on Thursday night and tried to talk up the awful health-care bill that his party had just rushed through two committees. His message was aimed at the ultra-conservative groups, such as the Freedom Caucus and Heritage Action for America, that have come out strongly against the proposed legislation. McCarthy didn’t try to claim that the bill would make health care more affordable or widely available. Instead, he defended its conservative bona fides, twice pointing out that it would repeal all the taxes that were introduced under the Affordable Care Act—taxes that mainly hit the one per cent.

Hannity, who is one of President Trump’s biggest boosters, didn’t hide his loyalties or his concern about the political firestorm that the bill has set off. “This has to work: there is no option here,” he said at one point. Later, he warned, “As soon as it passes, you own it.”

Intentionally or not, Hannity summed up the political dilemma facing Trump and his Administration. The White House has embraced Paul Ryan’s handiwork—the House Speaker is the bill’s top backer—and they are now trying together to persuade the full House and the Senate to vote for at least some version of it. But if the bill does pass and Trump signs it into law, what happens then? The health-care industry will be thrown into turmoil; many millions of Americans will lose their coverage; many others, including a lot of Trump voters (particularly elderly ones), will see their premiums rise sharply; and Trump will risk being just as closely associated with “Trumpcare” as Barack Obama was with Obamacare.

Two questions arise: Why did Ryan and his colleagues propose such a lemon? And why did Trump agree to throw his backing behind it?

The first question is easier to answer. For seven years, promising to get rid of Obamacare has been a rallying cry for Republicans on Capitol Hill—one supported by both Party leaders and activists, as well as by big donors, such as the Koch brothers. It was inevitable that, if the G.O.P. ever took power, it would move to fulfill this pledge, despite the human costs of doing so.

What wasn’t anticipated was that the Republican leadership would run into hostility from the right. But that, too, is explainable. After November’s election, Ryan and his colleagues were forced to face the reality that fully repealing the A.C.A. would require sixty votes in the Senate, which wasn’t achievable. Many of the things that ultra-conservatives see as shortcomings in the bill now being considered—such as the retention of rules dictating what sorts of policies insurers can offer—are in there to make sure that the Senate can pass the bill as part of the budget-reconciliation process, which requires just fifty-one votes. As McCarthy explained to Hannity, “The challenge is the process of how we have to do this.”

The more interesting question is why Trump would stake his credibility on such a deeply regressive, and potentially unpopular, proposal. During the campaign, he frequently promised to repeal Obamacare—but it wasn’t one of his main issues. Clamping down on immigration, embracing economic protectionism, rebuilding infrastructure, and blowing a raspberry at the Washington establishment were much more central to his platform.

Early in the campaign, in fact, Trump praised socialized medicine, and promised to provide everybody with health care. “As far as single-payer, it works in Canada. It works incredibly well in Scotland,” he said in August, 2015, during the first Republican debate. A month later, he told “60 Minutes,” “I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.”

Part of what is going on is that Trump needs a quick legislative success. He is keenly aware that, by this stage in his Presidency, Obama had signed a number of important bills, including a big stimulus package. Trump also badly needs to change the subject from Russia. It might sound crazy to suggest that a President would embrace a bill that could do him great harm in the long term just for a few days’ respite, but these are crazy times. If nothing else, the political furor surrounding the House G.O.P. proposal has eclipsed the headlines about Trump claiming that Obama wiretapped him. For much of this week, Trump has ducked out of sight, letting Ryan and his bill take the spotlight.

That’s not the only way the Russian story may have played into this. As the pressure grows for a proper independent probe of Trump’s ties to Moscow, he must retain the support of the G.O.P. leadership, which has the power to block such an investigation. It has long been clear that the relationship between the Republican Party and Trump is based on a quid pro quo, at least tacitly: in return for dismissing concerns about his authoritarianism, self-dealing, and Russophilia, the Party gets to enact some of the soak-the-poor policies it has long been promoting. For a time, it seemed like Trump was the senior partner in this arrangement. But now Republicans like Ryan have more leverage, and Trump has more of an incentive to go along with them.

Still, even if he had more leeway to speak out against the House G.O.P. bill, is there any reason to think he would? The thing always to remember about Trump—and this week has merely confirmed it—is that he is a sham populist. A sham authoritarian populist, even.

Going back to late-nineteenth-century Germany, many of the most successful authoritarian populists have expanded the social safety net. Otto von Bismarck, the first Chancellor, introduced health insurance, accident insurance, and old-age pensions. “The actual complaint of the worker is the insecurity of his existence,” he said in 1884. “He is unsure if he will always have work, he is unsure if he will always be healthy, and he can predict that he will reach old age and be unable to work.”

During the twentieth century, Argentina’s Juan Perón, Malaysia’s Tunku Abdul Rahman, and Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew were among the authoritarian leaders who followed Bismarck’s example. Today, if you look at the election platform of Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French National Front, you see something similar. Like Trump, Le Pen is a nativist, a protectionist, and an Islamophobe. But she is not proposing to dismantle any of the many social benefits that the French state provides. Rather, she says she will expand child-support payments and reduce the retirement age to sixty.

Trump, on the other hand, has little to offer ordinary Americans except protectionist rhetoric and anti-immigrant measures. Before moving to gut Obamacare, he at least could have tried to bolster his populist credentials by passing a job-creating infrastructure bill or a middle-class tax cut. Instead, he’s staked his Presidency on a proposal that would hurt many of his supporters, slash Medicaid, undermine the finances of Medicare, and benefit the donor class. That’s not populism: it’s the reverse of it. And it might be a political disaster in the making.

Doonesbury — Rank amateur.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sunday Reading

Hard-Pressed — Evan Osnos in The New Yorker on Trump’s relationship with the media.

Even before the White House press corps was born—in 1896, when newspapers assigned reporters to a table outside the office of Grover Cleveland’s secretary—attentive reporters irritated occupants of the White House. To hide the fact that he had a tumor, Cleveland, in 1893, disappeared from Washington for four days to have surgery aboard a friend’s yacht. In 1913, Woodrow Wilson, who hated the press’s fascination with his three daughters, accused “certain evening newspapers” of quoting him on things he meant to stay off the record. He eventually all but abandoned news conferences. It was six years before Warren G. Harding, who had been a newspaper publisher, revived the tradition.

And, yet, over the years, almost every President has adopted a fruitful, if tense, mutual dependence with the press. Each needs something from the other, and both sides know it. Bruce Catton, a correspondent in the nineteen-forties, defined the constant business of leaking as information that officials were “either unwilling or unready” to reveal by name. Anonymity, ritually bemoaned and practiced by both sides, endures because it allows members of government, high and low, to speak more freely. Earlier this month, anonymity allowed the Washington Post to report, on the basis of nine sources, that Michael Flynn, the national-security adviser, had discussed Obama Administration sanctions with the Russian ambassador before Donald Trump took office, contrary to what Flynn told his colleagues. (Three days later, Flynn resigned.) Early Friday, CNN cited unnamed officials to report that the F.B.I. had rejected a White House request to dispute media reports that Trump’s campaign advisers were frequently in touch with Russian intelligence agents.

Anonymity, of course, is also a tool of the White House. On Thursday, one of Trump’s advisers e-mailed me a statement that began with the words “A WH official confirmed.” In Washington, anonymity, as Winston Churchill said of democracy, is a lousy solution, except for all the others.

But under Donald Trump, the dynamic between the press and the President has turned toxic. As a real-estate developer, Trump was, for many years, an energetic anonymous source (even pretending to be his own P.R. man to salt the local papers with news about himself), but Trump has bridled against the scrutiny applied to every President since Cleveland. On Friday morning, about an hour after his press secretary, Sean Spicer, and chief of staff, Reince Priebus, held an anonymous briefing for the press, Trump publicly excoriated the press’s use of anonymity. In a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, he said, “I called the fake news ‘the enemy of the people’—and they are. They are the enemy of the people. Because they have no sources, they just make them up when there are none.” At one point, he posed changes that would effectively alter the First Amendment, saying, “They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name.” He added, “We’re going to do something about it.”

And do something they did. Shortly after Trump’s speech, his press office narrowed the day’s briefing to what’s known as a “gaggle”—a smaller, off-camera format that is useful for impromptu or informal updates. It turned away CNN, the Times, BuzzFeed, Politico, and other outlets that have published tough stories about his Administration lately. It ushered in Breitbart, the Washington Times, and a conservative outlet called One America Network. When Zeke Miller, of Time magazine, and Julie Pace, of the Associated Press—both of whom are on the board of the White House Correspondents Association—realized that organizations were being excluded, they left in protest. Reporters who stayed later shared the contents of the briefing in full.

The White House defended its actions by saying that every White House holds handpicked, off-the-record sessions, but reporters noted that this was an on-the-record briefing. “In the six years I’ve been here, I’ve never been a party to a gaggle that was not on Air Force One or on the road,” Mark Landler, a senior White House correspondent at the Times, told me. “Handpicking the participants is totally new.”

By day’s end, news organizations still couldn’t decipher whether the change was temporary—a kind of press-office panic attack—or a more permanent turn. Davan Maharaj, the editor-in-chief and publisher of the Los Angeles Times, which was among the excluded, told me, “We don’t know what this means. We don’t know if Spicer is under pressure to show that he’s being tougher with the press. We don’t know if this is another effort at manipulation to shift the topic from whether the Administration inappropriately tried to influence the F.B.I. on the Russian investigation. What it does seem like is another effort to target the press as the disloyal opposition and an attack on what objective truth is.”

There was, of course, no shortage of reasons for the White House to shift the topic. In addition to contacting the F.B.I., according to the Washington Post, the White House also “enlisted senior members of the intelligence community and Congress in efforts to counter news stories about Trump associates’ ties to Russia”—a development that drew comparisons to Richard Nixon’s attempts to stifle the Watergate investigation. In another blow, the White House was confronting an article in the Forward, headlined, “Senior Trump Aide Forged Key Ties to Anti-Semitic Groups in Hungary,” which focussed on Sebastian Gorka, a deputy assistant to the President, who rose through the far-right edge of Hungarian politics.

“I think there are two things going on,” Maharaj said. “I think there is a clear effort to bring the press to heel, something that’s not going to happen to the people who are the purveyors of high-quality journalism in the press in the United States. There’s also a clear effort to delegitimize credible sources of information so when something happens, when we or the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post pop a story, that there’s a record of already discrediting the source.”

So far, news organizations have been galvanized by the pressure. The Washington Post has added a new motto to its front page: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” And the L.A. Times has printed up T-shirts, for staff and the public, with the phrase “We will not shut up” in thirteen languages. “Look, we all joined this business to hold officials accountable and to search for truth and to be vigorous in that search,” Maharaj said.

In the days to come, there will be questions to settle. Will the White House Correspondents Association, which said it was “protesting strongly” the exclusions, urge members to boycott the briefings? (For its part, The New Yorker will not attend White House briefings until the exclusions are ended, according to David Remnick, the editor of the magazine.) Will members of Congress see it as another sign of the President’s authoritarian turn? In a telling sign of displeasure, Representative Darrell Issa, the California Republican who had supported Trump in the campaign, called, on Friday, for a special prosecutor to manage the investigation into contacts between Trump associates and Russia.

The course of events will be shaped, above all, by the President himself. Barring a critical press is a step that Trump’s predecessors avoided even at the depths of scandal. During Watergate, Iran-Contra, and the Monica Lewinsky affair, they continued to engage the press because an open society is at the heart of the values that compelled them to seek the White House in the first place. As Spicer himself said in December, the Trump Administration never planned to ban a news outlet: “Conservative, liberal, or otherwise, I think that’s what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship.”

Every President is tempted, at times, to cower, to bully, to flee—even to a friend’s yacht. For Trump, there is an added incentive. He has at his disposal, and is using to full effect, something previous Presidents didn’t have: social media and a direct method of communication that bypasses the press.

But, historically, most Presidents eventually calculate that it is a ruinous strategy that only intensifies an Administration’s isolation and deepens the public’s distrust. During Grover Cleveland’s first Presidential campaign, in 1884, news broke that he had fathered an illegitimate child. He told his political aides and allies, “Whatever you do, tell the truth.” It contributed to his reputation and ultimately helped him win the White House. But in Washington today, the White House has slipped into a fragile, frantic mode, lurching from crisis to crisis, and not yet able to demonstrate whether its animating value is the preservation of its personnel or its integrity.

The Hard Part — Tim Murphy in Mother Jones on the part for the DNC.

And to think, that was the easy part. Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez was elected as chair of the Democratic National Committee on Saturday, edging out Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison in the first competitive election for the job in decades. The 55-year-old Perez, the first Latino chair of the party, will now inherit the most thankless job in politics—rebuilding a party that is at its lowest point since the 1920s.

The race was often miscast as a proxy fight between supporters of Bernie Sanders and supporters of Hillary Clinton, a framing that was unfair to both Ellison and Perez, dynamic and progressive political operatives running for a job often reserved for staid political figures. In the end, Perez’s win was not a rejection of Ellison’s vision of the party; in key ways, his campaign was an affirmation of it.

Party chair is a position typically of interest only to political junkies. But with organizers still amped up from the presidential election, the race had the feel and structure of a competitive primary, with a half-dozen candidate forums across the country and an intensive push from rank-and-file voters that recalled previous courting of superdelegates. “I’ve been lobbied consistently by phone, by email, by Facebook, by Twitter for the last month,” said Melvin Poindexter, a DNC member from Massachusetts who was supporting Ellison.

Ellison, for his part, tried to tamp down the barrage of phone calls on his behalf, which one state party chair unfavorably described as “anarchy.” But aggressive lobbying proved critical. Kerman Maddox, a DNC member from California, explained that he’d chosen Perez in part because “Tom called me more than any of the other Democratic candidates”—a sentiment echoed by other voting members.

After the results were announced, a dozen Ellison supporters—including the congressman’s brother, Eric—chanted “party for the people, not big money” from the back of the Atlanta ballroom, with a few cries of “bullshit!” thrown in. While the formal final vote, sealed on the second ballot, was 235 to 200, in a show of unity, Perez was subsequently elected by acclamation. In his first move as chair, he announced that Ellison had agreed to serve as his deputy chair.

“If you’re wearing a ‘Keith’ t-shirt—or any t-shirt—I am asking you to give everything you’ve got to support chairman Perez,” Ellison told the room. Afterward, they switched campaign pins in a show of solidarity.

In the run up to the vote, some Ellison backers argued that there was no real case for a Perez chairmanship—that he was running as a check on Sanders’ influence and little more. But DNC members I spoke with seemed to understand Perez’s pitch quite clearly: he was a turnaround artist who had retooled complex bureaucracies toward progressive ends, first at the Maryland Department of Labor, then at the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, and finally as President Barack Obama’s Labor Secretary. If progressives had forgotten what they liked about Perez, they needed to look no farther than the conservative Breitbart News, which once heralded Perez “the most radical cabinet secretary since Henry Wallace,” the New Dealer who eventually bolted the Democrats to mount a third party challenge in 1948.

The fights that Perez has waged over the course of his career track closely with those Ellison cut his teeth on in Minneapolis—housing discrimination, voter suppression, and living wages. Neo-liberal stooges still have a place in the Democratic party. But the DNC chair isn’t one of them.

Beyond their shared political priorities, Perez even offered a similar diagnosis as Ellison. The party had become top-heavy, focusing too much on the presidential race, and had neglected to compete on a county-by-county level. He advocated something resembling a restoration of former chair Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy, and proposed to spend more time knocking on doors in off-year elections. There was no talk of compromising with President Donald Trump; Perez dubbed him “the worst president in the history of the United States.”

Ellison sought to win the same way he always has, through a mastery of coalition politics. His backers included American Federation of Teachers, the AFL-CIO, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid, Rep. John Lewis, and Sanders—many of whom found themselves on opposing sides during the president primary. The threat by OJ Simpson counsel and Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz< to leave the party if Ellison won did not appear to have a substantial effect on voters. (Maybe they were waiting to hear from F. Lee Bailey.) He ran not as Sanders 2.0, but as a restoration of an even older form of Democratic progressivism, one evoked by the spruce-green colors on his t-shirts and tote bags—the campaign colors of his political idol, the late Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone.

Just a few hours before the election, there was an indication Ellison might come up short when the committee members voted on a resolution that would reinstate the party’s ban on corporate donations. The ban, which was first implemented by president-elect Barack Obama in 2008, had been dropped last year by the previous party chair, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. Ellison had supported the reinstatement of the ban and envisioned a party’s fundraising model in the mold of Sanders’ small-dollar campaign. Perez never committed to reinstating the contribution ban.

The resolution brought on the most contentious 10 minutes of a weekend that, up until then, had been a love-fest. Bob Mulholland of California, the leading critic of the ban, chided critics as naive. He cited corporate opposition to ousted North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory as proof that corporations aren’t all evil. Supporters of the ban, some of the new party leaders whom had been recently elected to their posts with the backing of Sanders’s supporters, implicitly tied the resolution to the senator’s one-time candidacy, warning that the party risked alienating voters who cared about money in politics. Jessica Sell Chambers, a Sanders backer and the newly minted national committeewoman from Wyoming, offered a succinct appraisal: “I belong to the party of the people and the last time I checked corporations aren’t people.”

Inside the Westin, where Democrats began assembling on Thursday, the notion that the chair candidates were engaged in a rancorous, existential fight seemed far-fetched. Perez, who was hoarse from two days of lobbying as he made a last-minute push Friday night, had taken to calling the event “Unity Saturday.” Even the most die-hard Ellison supporters were optimistic that the party would be in good hands win or lose. Each of the leading candidates devoted portions of their stump speech to a call for unity no matter who won.

“I really just want to like put at least four of them together,” said Dolly Strazar from Hawaii, a Sanders supporter who ended up backing Perez. Another voting member, Aleita Huguenin of California, predicted that the fight would quickly simmer down. “I’ve been through too many of them,” she said. “People are a little disappointed, they have two dinners, and will be back together.”

In reality, the contentious fight over the future of the party never really described the DNC race—but there is such a battle playing out across the country. Already, Sanders supporters, both organically and with the support of the Senator’s non-profit Our Revolution, have begun targeting the party’s apparatus at state, county, and local levels. They are poised to take over the California Democratic party in May, after winning a majority of delegates to the state convention in January. The Sanders wing is ascendant in Nebraska and Wyoming, and setting its sights on Florida and Michigan. Beyond party positions, re-energized Sanders supporters are talking openly about primary challenges to Democratic officeholders who support Donald Trump’s policies.

Less than a year after only 39 of 447 DNC members endorsed Sanders’ presidential campaign, his chosen candidate came about 15 votes short of taking over the whole thing. The numbers reflect Sanders’ forces growing strength in the party, a gradual upheaval that may only be sped along by Perez’s victory. DNC members from Wyoming—where the Vermont senator notched a huge caucus victory but due to party rules emerged with few delegates—who are not on board are feeling the heat. When Bruce Palmer, the party’s vice chair, told me he was supporting Tom Perez, he conceded that it may be to his own detriment. After all, he’s got an election next month.

Town Hall Advice — Former Rep. Steve Israel has some thoughts for his GOP colleagues facing their constituents.

Unruly crowds at town halls are taking members of Congress by surprise. Many are so intimidated that they are refusing to show up. President Trump recently tweeted, “The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!”

They are not sad, Mr. President, but mad. Not long ago, I was on the receiving end.

Until last month, I represented a fairly quiet district on Long Island. For the first nine years of my time in Congress, my town halls could barely fill a closet. We held them in firehouses and libraries. The events were civil and sleepy, and my interns usually outnumbered the constituents. I’d show up in my gleaming congressional lapel pin and requisite red tie, ready for that Rockwellian view of a citizenry’s public discourse with a national leader. Then, my heart would drop when I saw mostly empty metal folding chairs.

All of that changed when the Tea Party rolled in.

In 2009, my Democratic colleagues began reporting that their town meetings were being disrupted. Civil discourse was being replaced by brawls. In some cases, police officers were brought in to protect the politicians.

Not in my district, I thought. I couldn’t even bribe my constituents into coming with free bagels and coffee.

Then it began: an avalanche of calls demanding to know when and where I’d conduct a town hall. Some of the voices had decidedly Southern accents (and I don’t mean the South Shore of Long Island). My interns usually took callers’ names and addresses, but strangely, many of the people who said they needed to attend a town hall didn’t want to leave a phone number so we could tell them when and where they could satisfy that urge.

We set an evening and searched for a site big enough to accommodate the crowd, settling on the theater at a community college. When I arrived, I saw so many people that I thought the college had scheduled a sporting event at the same time. That’s when I realized that I was the sporting event.

People were tailgating. Yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flags were hoisted everywhere. The Suffolk County Police Department was out in force.

Perhaps the lowest point of the town hall was when one member of my staff was taunted as being a socialist. She happens to be an Army veteran who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. We had arranged for the League of Women Voters to moderate the meeting so I couldn’t be accused of selecting favorable questions. That worked out fine until someone in the audience accused the League of Women Voters of being socialists, too.

Almost immediately I noticed something unusual. Every couple of minutes, people at the end of every few rows of seats would spring to their feet, then turn to the rows immediately behind them and urge others to stand — like orchestrating a wave at a baseball game. It was the first time I’d witnessed syncopated booing.

For two hours, I was called more names and booed at more times than I thought possible. At the merciful end, my politician’s instincts took hold and I approached the edge of the stage to shake hands with a group that swelled against it. Then I felt a tug on my arm. It was a police officer, surrounded by three colleagues, who said: “We think it would be a good idea to leave. Now.”

Later I saw a memo by the Tea Party Patriots giving instructions to crowds like this across the nation. It was essentially a manual for what their strategy should be at a town-hall meeting: Scream loudly, be disruptive and make clear that a significant portion of the audience does not support the agenda.

The night of my town hall, I knew the crowd was effectively stage-managed and that many people there didn’t live in my district. But I didn’t make an issue of that, as President Trump does now. It was my obligation — my job — to listen to disagreement. The people there were Americans expressing their anger and anxiety; exercising a constitutional principle to petition their grievances to government. It wasn’t a pleasant night, but it was a patriotic one.

So my advice to those members of Congress who are hiding out or delaying is this: You can run for re-election, but you can’t hide from the American people.

The longer you wait, the louder it will get.

 Doonesbury — Just the guy for the job.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Monday, January 23, 2017

Alternative Facts

Fact: I’m a 64-year-old white guy with a mid-level government job who could stand to lose a few pounds.

Alternative fact: I’m a well-muscled billionaire who can fly.

This seems to be the new normal.

One of the advantages of being my age is that I remember all too well how a previous administration dealt with a press corps they didn’t like or trust.  Richard Nixon’s press secretary, Ron Ziegler, had a running battle with the press before and during Watergate to the point that it was taken for granted by the press that whatever he said was misleading or an outright lie.

Given Mr. Nixon’s well-documented paranoia and hatred of the press, Mr. Ziegler had a tough and thankless job.  On the other hand, Kellyanne Conway seems to relish being combative while trying — and failing miserably — to be charming in a Fox News-like perky and yet devoid-of-reality sort of way.

The Washington press corps has been chastised, and rightly so, for dutifully following the lines and lies of the Republicans during the last eight years and especially during the election of 2016, blowing up little things into major scandals (Hillary’s coughing!) while letting the truly telling and important facts (what’s up with Trump and Russia?) get brushed aside.  The excuse was that was an election campaign and they couldn’t call out the bullshit because then they would be seen as being biased.  Well, guess what, fellas; that’s what they always say, so why not tell the real news and not get lead around by the nose?  They’re going to beat you up no matter what, so why not take the beating for a good cause?

Now that Trump is in office they seem to feel that the gloves can come off.  Well, if they had felt that way a year ago about his blatant bullshit and inability to keep a story straight from the start of one paragraph to the end of it, perhaps we wouldn’t be forced to watch the reincarnation of Josef Goebbels in drag chirping away on “Meet The Press” telling us that their “facts” are “alternative facts.”  Now it’s already baked into the cake.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Rags To Riches

Via Think Progress, the National Enquirer comes up from the bottom of the bird cage.

Since election day, the Enquirer has trumpeted the president-elect’s controversial decision to hire white nationalist figures like Steve Bannon, his economically untenable and largely falsified plan to save a few jobs from leaving Indiana, and his bold leadership in convincing Apple to move 4.5 million jobs to the United States (no such plan exists).

Many shoppers afford the National Enquirer and its sensationalist headlines little more than a casual, bemused glance while waiting in line to pay for groceries. But the sheer reach of the publication—the Alliance for Audited Media puts their circulation at roughly 350,000 in the first six months of 2016, on par with publications like Scientific American and many times larger than The Nation or Harpers—gives them a megaphone.

It remains to be seen if the National Enquirer’s current standing as a disreputable rag changes in a Trump administration. For years, the paper has tried to build its credibility as more than a peddler of gossip and fiction, most recently in 2008 when they were the first to break the story about John Edwards’ long history of affairs. Though their reporting lacked basic journalistic standards, subsequent reporting by actual journalists lent weight to the Enquirer’s story.

But there is some evidence that the Enquirer will have a powerful ally and a captive audience working in the West Wing. It was the Enquirer that first pushed a fake story about Ted Cruz’s father being seen with Lee Harvey Oswald months before the assassination of JFK. Within hours, Donald Trump himself was sharing the story to his millions of followers on social media, citing the Enquirer – “They actually have a very good record of being right,” he said at the time – in the way most people cite the New York Times.

It is somehow fitting that the National Enquirer should become the house — or mouth — organ for Trump and his minions.  Every dictator needs a propaganda minister, and a supermarket tabloid fits right in with the flavor of the Trumps and their flair for tacky low-brow gaudiness.

Meanwhile, there’s a glimmer of hope that real journalism will not take this journey into the land of living Elvis and dying Hillary without doing some fact-checking.  The Washington Post is testing a live fact-checker for Trump’s tweets.

It’s still in the early stages, but our goal is to provide additional context where needed for Trump’s tweets moving forward (and a few golden oldies). For example, here’s what it shows in relation to that Trump tweet.

Or, for example, here’s what it says when you go to Trump’s tweet about how there were “millions of people who voted illegally,” which is why he lost the popular vote:

Sometimes, we just add more context, like when Trump announced his pick of Rex Tillerson to serve as secretary of state. Curious for more info? It’s right there in the tweet now.It takes a little while for the extension to update, so we’ll try to stay up to speed on fact-checking what Trump is tweeting, but it may take a few minutes. This is a work in progress, so don’t hesitate to offer feedback and thoughts.

And don’t hesitate to point to Trump tweets that could use a little explication. That’s the goal, after all.

There is hope for journalism after all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Whine List

Depending on who you listen to, Donald Trump either browbeat the crap out of news anchors and executives at an off-the-record meeting in his Fortress of Solitude, or he whined about how mean they were to him and used unflattering photos to illustrate their stories.

I’m going with the latter.

The source said the meeting started with a typical Trump complaint about the “dishonest media,” and that he specifically singled out CNN and NBC News for example as “the worst.”

He also complained about photos of himself that NBC used that he found unflattering, the source said.

Trump turned to NBC News President Deborah Turness at one point, the source said, and told her the network won’t run a nice picture of him, instead choosing “this picture of me,” as he made a face with a double chin. Turness replied that they had a “very nice” picture of him on their website at the moment.

NBC spokespeople did not immediately return a request for comment.

Trump also singled out CNN, the source said, without elaborating on what the president-elect said about the network. A CNN spokeswoman wrote in an email that the network would not comment on an off-the-record meeting.

Ohfergawdsake.  He doesn’t get to make the rules, and if he expects the press to treat him with all due respect, he has to stop acting like a spoiled kid who doesn’t get the last slice of cake because he’s a whiny little brat.

If we had a press corps with an ounce of backbone and integrity for true journalism, they’d either laugh this clown out of the room or they’d dig up every unflattering photo they have of him — and there are plenty, believe me — and run them every chance they get.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

First Things First

If you think calling Donald Trump a dictator-in-waiting is over the top, then what would you call someone who thinks that the First Amendment needs to be changed because freedom of the press is ruining his campaign?

In an interview with WFOR, CBS’ Miami affiliate, Trump was asked if he believes the First Amendment provides “too much protection.”

Trump answered in the affirmative, saying he’d like to change the laws to make it easier to sue media companies. Trump lamented that, under current law, “our press is allowed to say whatever they want.”

Yes, they are.  That is the point.

Funny (not really) how certain amendments, like the Second, are sacrosanct to Mr. Trump while others, like the First, Fourth, and Fifth are a threat to Law ‘n’ Order.  These are the same people who are calling for less government and more freedom.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

From Russia With Malice

Kurt Eichenwald at Newsweek discovered that the Russians have been using his material published in Newsweek to try to manipulate the U.S. election.  The good news is that they are klutzes at it.

I am Sidney Blumenthal. At least, that is what Vladimir Putin—and, somehow, Donald Trump—seem to believe. And that should raise concerns not only about Moscow’s attempts to manipulate this election, but also how Trump came to push Russian disinformation to American voters.

An email from Blumenthal—a confidant of Hillary Clinton and a man, second only to George Soros at the center of conservative conspiracy theories—turned up in the recent document dump by Wikileaks. At a time when American intelligence believes Russian hackers are trying to interfere with the presidential election, records have been fed recently to Wikileaks out of multiple organizations of the Democratic Party, raising concerns that the self-proclaimed whistleblowers group has become a tool of Putin’s government. But now that I have been brought into the whole mess—and transformed into Blumenthal—there is even more proof that this act of cyberwar is not only being orchestrated by the Russians, but that they are really, really dumb.

The evidence emerged thanks to the incompetence of Sputnik, the Russian online news and radio service established by the government controlled news agency, Rossiya Segodnya.

The documents that Wikileaks unloaded recently have been emails out of the account of John Podesta, the chairman of Clinton’s election campaign. Almost as soon as the pilfered documents emerged, Sputnik was all over them and rapidly found (or probably already knew about before the Wikileaks dump) a purportedly incriminating email from Blumenthal.

The email was amazing—it linked Boogie Man Blumenthal, Podesta and the topic of conservative political fevered dreams, Benghazi. This, it seemed, was the smoking gun finally proving Clinton bore total responsibility for the terrorist attack on the American outpost in Libya in 2012. Sputnik even declared that the email might be the “October surprise” that could undermine Clinton’s campaign.

To understand the full importance of the story—and how much Putin and his Kremlin cronies must have been dancing with delight—I have to quote the top few paragraphs:

In a major revelation from the second batch of WikiLeaks emails from Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta it was learned that Hillary’s top confidante Sidney Blumenthal believed that the investigation into Benghazi was legitimate because it was “preventable” and the result of State Department negligence.

In an email titled “The Truth” from Hillary’s top confidante Sidney Blumenthal, the adviser writing to undisclosed recipients said that “one important point that has been universally acknowledged by nine previous reports about Benghazi: The attack was almost certainly preventable” in what may turn out to be the big October surprise from the WikiLeaks released of emails hacked from the account of Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta.

Then came the money quote: “Clinton was in charge of the State Department, and it failed to protect U.S. personnel at an American consulate in Libya. If the GOP wants to raise that as a talking point against her, it is legitimate,” said Blumenthal, putting to rest the Democratic Party talking point that the investigation into Clinton’s management of the State Department at the time of the attack was nothing more than a partisan witch hunt.

Those words sounded really, really familiar. Really familiar. Like, so familiar they struck me as something I wrote. Because they were something I wrote.

The Russians were quoting two sentences from a 10,000 word piece I wrote for Newsweek, which Blumenthal had emailed to Podesta. There was no mistaking that Blumenthal was citing Newsweek—the magazine’s name and citations for photographs appeared throughout the attached article. The Russians had carefully selected the “of course” paragraph, which mentions there were legitimate points of criticism regarding Clinton and Benghazi, all of which had been acknowledged in nine reports about the terror attack and by the former Secretary of State herself. But that was hardly the point of the story, “Benghazi Biopsy: A Comprehensive Guide to One of America’s Worst Political Outrages.” The piece is about the obscene politicization of the assault that killed four Americans, and the article slammed the Republican Benghazi committee which was engaged in a political show trial disguised as a Congressional investigation—the tenth inquiry into the tragedy.

Here is the real summation of my article, which the Russians failed to quote: “The historical significance of this moment can hardly be overstated, and it seems many Republicans, Democrats and members of the media don’t fully understand the magnitude of what is taking place. The awesome power of government—one that allows officials to pore through almost anything they demand and compel anyone to talk or suffer the shame of taking the Fifth Amendment—has been unleashed for purely political purposes. It is impossible to review what the Benghazi committee has done as anything other than taxpayer-funded political research of the opposing party’s leading candidate for president. Comparisons from America’s past are rare. Richard Nixon’s attempts to use the IRS to investigate his perceived enemies come to mind. So does Senator Joseph McCarthy’s red-baiting during the 1950s, with reckless accusations of treason leveled at members of the State Department, military generals and even the secretary of the Army…The consequences, however, are worse than the manipulation of the electoral process. By using Benghazi for political advantage, the Republicans have communicated to global militants that, through even limited attacks involving relatively few casualties, they can potentially influence the direction of American elections.”

Of course, this might be seen as just an opportunity to laugh at the incompetence of the Russian hackers and government press—once they realized their error, Sputnik took the article down. But then things got even more bizarre.

Donald Trump took the bait and ran with it, reading the article at a rally in Pennsylvania, inciting the crowd to start chanting “Lock her up!”  He’s been citing this story on the trail ever since.

This is not funny. It is terrifying. The Russians engage in a sloppy disinformation effort and, before the day is out, the Republican nominee for president is standing on a stage reciting the manufactured story as truth. How did this happen? Who in the Trump campaign was feeding him falsehoods straight from the Kremlin? (The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment).

The Russians have been obtaining American emails and now are presenting complete misrepresentations of them—falsifying them—in hopes of setting off a cascade of events that might change the outcome of the presidential election. The big question, of course, is why are the Russians working so hard to damage Clinton and, in the process, aid Donald Trump? That is a topic for another time.

The bottom line is that the Republican candidate for President of the United States has been spouting Russian propaganda and his red-blooded America Fuck Yeah supporters have been eating it up.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

In The Tank

If Hillary Clinton loses, blame the media.

Thomas Patterson in the Los Angeles Times:

My analysis of media coverage in the four weeks surrounding both parties’ national conventions found that her use of a private email server while secretary of State and other alleged scandal references accounted for 11% of Clinton’s news coverage in the top five television networks and six major newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. Excluding neutral reports, 91% of the email-related news reports were negative in tone. Then, there were the references to her character and personal life, which accounted for 4% of the coverage; that was 92% negative.

While Trump declared open warfare on the mainstream media — and of late they have cautiously responded in kind — it has been Clinton who has suffered substantially more negative news coverage throughout nearly the whole campaign.

Few presidential candidates have been more fully prepared to assume the duties of the presidency than is Clinton. Yet, her many accomplishments as first lady, U.S. senator, and secretary of State barely surfaced in the news coverage of her candidacy at any point in the campaign. She may as well as have spent those years baking cookies.

How about her foreign, defense, social or economic policies? Don’t bother looking. Not a single one of Clinton’s policy proposals accounted for even 1% of her convention-period coverage; collectively, her policy stands accounted for a mere 4% of it. But she might be thankful for that: News reports about her stances were 71% negative to 29% positive in tone. Trump was quoted more often about her policies than she was. Trump’s claim that Clinton “created ISIS,” for example, got more news attention than her announcement of how she would handle Islamic State.

I also looked at the year before the 2016 primaries began, and even then Clinton had a 2-to-1 ratio of bad press to good press. There was only one month in the whole of 2015 where the tone of her coverage on balance was not in the red — and even then it barely touched positive territory.

During the primaries, her coverage was again in negative territory and again less positive than Trump’s. After the conventions got underway and Trump got embroiled in a testy exchange with the parents of a slain Muslim U.S. soldier, the tone of his coverage nosedived and her coverage looked rosy by comparison. But even then it was not glowing. Her convention-period news coverage was 56% negative to 44% positive.

[…]

Judging from their stories, journalists rate the emails as being a highly important and very serious issue. They cover it heavily and with damning tone. When 90% or more of the coverage of a subject is negative, the verdict is in. Even good news gets turned to her disadvantage. For example, when the FBI announced that her emails did not violate the law, the Los Angeles Times ran a story focused on Trump’s response, quoting him as saying, “This is one of the most crooked politicians in history…. We have a rigged system, folks.”

In today’s hypercompetitive media environment, journalists find it difficult to resist controversies. Political scientist W. Lance Bennett explored this phenomenon around Trump’s 2011 allegation that President Obama was not a native-born American. Trump’s “birther” statements were seized upon by cable outlets and stayed in the headlines and on newscasts for days. Veteran CNN correspondent Candy Crowley even interviewed Trump, who was then not a political figure at all. She justified it by saying on air: “There comes a point where you can’t ignore something, not because it’s entertaining …. The question was, ‘Is he driving the conversation?’ And he was.” In truth, the news media were driving the conversation, as they have with Clinton’s emails.

Decades ago, the Hutchins Commission on Freedom of the Press concluded that reporters routinely fail to provide a “comprehensive and intelligent account of the day’s events in the context that gives them some meaning.” Whatever else might be concluded about the coverage of Clinton’s emails, context has been largely missing. Some stories spelled out how the merging of private and official emails by government officials was common practice. There were also some, though fewer, that tried to assess the harm, if any, that resulted from her use of a private server. As for Clinton’s policy proposals and presidential qualifications, they’ve been completely lost in the glare of damaging headlines and sound bites.

So if we end up with a president who is vaingloriously proud of his ignorance and treats the Constitution like one of his contractors, it will be in large part because the media was far more interested in getting a story that boosted ratings so they could charge more for ads for boner pills.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Unbalanced

Paul Krugman asks, “Why are the media objectively pro-Trump?”

Because they are, at this point. It’s not even false equivalence: compare the amount of attention given to the Clinton Foundation despite absence of any evidence of wrongdoing, and attention given to Trump Foundation, which engaged in more or less open bribery — but barely made a dent in news coverage. Clinton was harassed endlessly over failure to give press conferences, even though she was doing lots of interviews; Trump violated decades of tradition by refusing to release his taxes, amid strong suspicion that he is hiding something; the press simply dropped the subject.

Brian Beutler argues that it’s about protecting the media’s own concerns, namely access. But I don’t think that works. It doesn’t explain why the Clinton emails were a never-ending story but the disappearance of millions of George W. Bush emails wasn’t, or for that matter Jeb Bush’s deletion of records; the revelation that Colin Powell did, indeed, offer HRC advice on how to have private email the way he did hasn’t even been reported by some major news organizations.

And I don’t see how the huffing and puffing about the foundation — which “raised questions”, but where the media were completely unwilling to accept the answers they found — fits into this at all.

No, it’s something special about Clinton Rules. I don’t really understand it. But it has the feeling of a high school clique bullying a nerdy classmate because it’s the cool thing to do.

And as I feared, it looks as if people who cried wolf about non-scandals are now engaged in an all-out effort to dig up or invent dirt to justify their previous Clinton hostility.

Hard to believe that such pettiness could have horrifying consequences. But I am very scared.

I know that the media seems to think that they have an obligation to report “objectively,” that they must not be seen as favoring one candidate over the other.  So they melt it down to trying to be fair and end up being little more than an echo chamber for both sides.  It’s as if they are afraid to tell truth from fiction, reality from bullshit, and name the names of those who are doing a very good job of putting it over on the public.

It wouldn’t matter a whole lot if there wasn’t so much at stake.  Dr. Krugman talks about the campaign for president, but what about a subject that will go far beyond the election?  For instance, climate change.  It’s happening, it’s measurable and we’re already seeing the consequences of it in sea level rise (full disclosure; I live a quarter of a mile from the Atlantic Ocean at six feet above current sea level).  This past August was the hottest on record ever.  Now there are those who think it’s all a hoax dreamed up by people in the sandbag business.  Does the press have an obligation to report their views with the same gravity as those who know it’s happening?  Of course not.  They’re wrong, decidedly so, and just because they have an opinion doesn’t give them equal footing.  Climate change is a fact, and while you may disagree with that, it’s going to keep on changing no matter what you think.

So why does the media feel they have an obligation to present both sides equally?  Are they afraid they’re going to lose the approval of the climate nutsery?  Why do they feel that they have to put out a story that’s the equivalent of “Is The World Spherical or Flat — Views Differ”? Because they seem to believe that if they present both sides, even if one of them is total nonsense, that they will have done their duty and offended no one.  And no one will cancel their subscription or pull their ads.

The same thing happens on cable TV.  Spokespeople for a campaign will come on one of the shows and spout their party line, tell whoppers of lies — the latest crock of shit being that it was Hillary Clinton who started the birther movement in 2008 — and go unchallenged by the host who is either unaware of the falsehood (in which case they need to get out of the business) or are afraid of calling them out and risk losing them for future shows or even worse, being unfriended by them on Facebook.  It gets to the point of beyond comic: “Hillary Clinton shot JFK.”  “Well, we’ll have to leave it there.  Thanks for coming by; always a pleasure.”

Josh Marshall has a very thoughtful (and long but well worth the time) piece on the subject of journalistic balance and the tortured explanation by Liz Spayd, the Public Editor of the New York Times, on how that paper is answering the claim that it has been taking trouble to Hillary Clinton for non-stories and drumming up non-scandals to fever pitch while letting Donald Trump off the hook, as Dr. Krugman notes above.  Mr. Marshall concludes,

What this debate all comes down to is that the imperative for balance and the imperative for accuracy and completeness, what’s true and what’s not are inevitably in tension. Precisely how it’s solved or how that tension is dealt with is a very good debate to be having. (I would say the goal is not balance but fundamental fairness and honesty with readers and a constant effort to interrogate ones own biases.) But not to recognize the tension and not to see how some candidates push that tension to the point of crisis simply shows you’re in denial or have a monumental lack of self-awareness about the journalistic craft. That pretty much captures Spayd’s column.

There will always be a struggle between being balanced and being truthful.  The truth hurts, but it’s a lot better than leaving the reader/viewer with the empty feeling that they’re no more educated than they were when they started.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Same Story, Different Decade

Paul Krugman on what the press and its enablers are doing to Hillary Clinton.

Americans of a certain age who follow politics and policy closely still have vivid memories of the 2000 election — bad memories, and not just because the man who lost the popular vote somehow ended up in office. For the campaign leading up to that end game was nightmarish too.

You see, one candidate, George W. Bush, was dishonest in a way that was unprecedented in U.S. politics. Most notably, he proposed big tax cuts for the rich while insisting, in raw denial of arithmetic, that they were targeted for the middle class. These campaign lies presaged what would happen during his administration — an administration that, let us not forget, took America to war on false pretenses.

Yet throughout the campaign most media coverage gave the impression that Mr. Bush was a bluff, straightforward guy, while portraying Al Gore — whose policy proposals added up, and whose critiques of the Bush plan were completely accurate — as slippery and dishonest. Mr. Gore’s mendacity was supposedly demonstrated by trivial anecdotes, none significant, some of them simply false. No, he never claimed to have invented the internet. But the image stuck.

And right now I and many others have the sick, sinking feeling that it’s happening again.

I would like to give the press the benefit of the doubt and assume that they — the New York Times, the Associated Press, the cable outlets — don’t have it in for Hillary Clinton; at least consciously.  I am sure that they will all swear on a stack of Edward R. Murrow biographies that they are doing their level best to be objective; or at least what they consider to be objective, which is to say that “both sides do it” and that if Donald Trump is a grifter and a con artist, Hillary Clinton can’t be trusted with a BlackBerry and that’s the same thing.

That’s not malicious journalism, it’s just lazy.  There’s plenty of evidence of Mr. Trump’s mendacity and bullshit — he’s built his empire on it — and yet they’re covering him like he’s a Kardashian, not someone to sit in the same office as Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt.  Meanwhile, everything Hillary Clinton does is suspect, and there’s a full-blown right-wing industry that readily supplies the rumors, the innuendos, and the fiction to knock her down.

But lazy journalism is worse than the deliberate lies of the Hate-Hillary industry.  They have an agenda, but the press has a duty to report the facts and the truth.  As Dr. Krugman concludes,

…the best ways to judge a candidate’s character are to look at what he or she has actually done, and what policies he or she is proposing. Mr. Trump’s record of bilking students, stiffing contractors and more is a good indicator of how he’d act as president; Mrs. Clinton’s speaking style and body language aren’t. George W. Bush’s policy lies gave me a much better handle on who he was than all the up-close-and-personal reporting of 2000, and the contrast between Mr. Trump’s policy incoherence and Mrs. Clinton’s carefulness speaks volumes today.

In other words, focus on the facts. America and the world can’t afford another election tipped by innuendo.

The only problem with that is that it’s a lot easier to run with the innuendo and make it to Happy Hour than it is to actually do some real reporting.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Sunday Reading

Trump and the Truth — The New Yorker begins a series on Donald Trump’s touchy relationship with the truth.

“The facts aren’t known because the media won’t report on them,” Donald Trump declared during his immigration speech in Phoenix on Wednesday. A few hours earlier, the Republican nominee had been in Mexico City, where he had held a joint press conference with the Mexican President, Enrique Peña Nieto, and lauded Mexican-Americans as “amazing people . . . just beyond reproach.” In Phoenix, flanked by American flags, he struck a different tone. Trump warned the crowd that if Clinton were elected, America would be inundated by a new wave of illegal immigration that would result in “thousands of more violent, horrible crimes, and total chaos and lawlessness.”

Again and again in his Presidential campaign, Trump has issued sweeping assertions about how immigrants are “bringing crime” to America. Wednesday offered only the latest, and loudest, example. Examining these claims is instructive, not for what they tell us about Trump but for what they reveal about immigrants, whose relationship to crime is greatly misunderstood. If you live in a city that has become less dangerous in recent decades, a growing body of evidence suggests that you actually have immigrants to thank.

When Trump kicked off his campaign, last year, he accused Mexico of sending “rapists” and criminals to America. This was a patently outrageous claim, and there was no evidence behind it. According to Robert Sampson, a sociologist at Harvard and the former scientific director of the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, communities with high concentrations of immigrants do not suffer from outsized levels of violence. The opposite is the case. In his exhaustively researched 2012 book, “Great American City,” Sampson noted that, in Chicago, “increases in immigration and language diversity over the decade of the 1990s predicted decreases in neighborhood homicide rates.” Other scholars have turned up similar findings. In 2013, a team of researchers published a paper on Los Angeles that found that “concentrations of immigrants in neighborhoods are linked to significant reductions in crime.” A 2014 study examining a hundred and fifty-seven metropolitan areas in the United States found that violent crime tended to decrease when the population of foreign-born residents rose.

One reason for this may be that immigrants have helped revitalize formerly desolate urban neighborhoods, starting businesses and lowering the prevalence of vacant buildings, where violence can take root. Another possible factor is that, contrary to Trump’s bigoted rhetoric, many immigrants are ambitious strivers, who are highly motivated to support their families and make a better life for their children. Undocumented immigrants may also be more fearful than legal residents of attracting police attention, which could get them deported. Whatever the answer, the research helps make sense of the fact that, during the nineteen-nineties, the foreign-born population in the U.S. grew by more than fifty per cent, and cities such as New York, El Paso, and San Diego, where many of these newcomers settled, did not become cauldrons of violence. They became safer. While numerous factors may have contributed to this—most notably, a stronger economy—it is now widely agreed that immigration played a role, too.

In his statements and speeches, Trump has often qualified his language by distinguishing between documented and undocumented immigrants. In Phoenix, he contrasted the “dangerous criminal aliens” who ruthlessly victimized Americans with legitimate, law-abiding immigrants who obeyed the rules. Data isolating the level of crime among undocumented immigrants are hard to come by, in part because, many suspect, undocumented-immigrant communities underreport crime, for fear of bringing law enforcement to their doors. Sampson acknowledged this in an e-mail to me recently, but he countered that one felony—murder—resists underreporting. And, in the nineteen-nineties, he noted, the murder rate fell dramatically in America’s cities, even as the flow of documented and undocumented immigrants surged. “The homicides committed by illegal aliens in the United States are reflected in the data just like for everyone else,” he wrote to me. “The bottom line is that as immigrants poured into the country, homicides plummeted.”

To point these things out is not to deny the tragedy of any individual killing or crime. In June, the Boston Globe published a deeply reported story showing that, among three hundred and twenty-three foreign-born criminals released in New England between 2008 and 2012, nearly one-third went on to commit new offenses after being released, including rape and attempted murder. Based on a three-year review of court records and police logs, the Globe article raised legitimate questions about how forthright immigration officials have been about the issue. Trump cited the Globe’s story in his Phoenix speech, without acknowledging any of its nuance. Some of the criminals the Globe wrote about had entered the United States legally, and had been released because the government cannot detain immigrants indefinitely and because the countries they came from refused to take them back. The Globe also reported that, in the past year, almost sixty per cent of the people deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement were convicted criminals. Trump skirted around these facts, assailing President Obama and Hillary Clinton for “surrendering the safety of the American people to open borders” and promising that the mayhem he described would end if he were elected. “The crime will stop,” he vowed.

On the few occasions when journalists have challenged him directly on his incendiary claims about immigration, Trump has resorted to bullying and denial. “If you look at the statistics of people coming . . . you look at the statistics on rape, on crime, on everything coming in illegally in this country, it’s mind-boggling!” Trump declared during an interview on CNN last year, citing as evidence a 2014 story published by Fusion that investigated the prevalence of sexual assaults against migrant women and girls en route to the United States. When Don Lemon, the CNN host, responded by pointing out that the Fusion story was about migrants who were raped, not hordes of criminals crossing the border, Trump snapped, “Well, somebody’s doing the raping, Don! . . . Who’s doing the raping?” A few days later, Trump was interviewed by the NBC News correspondent Katy Tur, who pointed out to him that the incarceration rate for both documented Mexican immigrants and undocumented immigrants over all was lower than that for native-born Americans. “It’s a wrong statistic,” Trump insisted. “Take a look at all the crime that’s being committed.” When Tur noted that the research “does not match what you’re saying,” Trump replied, “Don’t be naïve. You’re a very naïve person.” (One widely cited 2008 study from the Public Policy Institute of California found that the incarceration rate for foreign-born adults in the state prison system was two hundred and ninety-seven per hundred thousand in the population. For U.S.-born adults, the figure was eight hundred and thirteen per hundred thousand.)

When it comes to the threat that immigrants pose, Trump has championed perceptions over facts. Here, alas, he may be on to something. One of the more striking findings of Robert Sampson’s work has been that the “perceived disorder” of a neighborhood correlated positively with the prevalence of Latino residents, regardless of the actual level of crime. Trump certainly perceives disorder, and, with his false claims and invented statistics, he is contributing to the perception of it, especially among people who have few encounters with actual Hispanic immigrants. A recent study by a Gallup economist found that Trump’s supporters appear to be concentrated in segregated communities, far away from the Mexican border.

For more than a year, Trump has used the spotlight on him to smear and malign tens of millions of people who have made the communities they inhabit safer places for people of all backgrounds to raise children or pursue their dreams. They’ll be gone, he says—he’s building a wall. Americans deserve to be reminded that these ideas aren’t just frightening in their intolerance. If your concern is public safety, they’re backward.

Pressing for Trouble — Paul Glastris on the scandal mongering of Hillary Clinton.

Over the last two weeks, Hillary Clinton’s campaign has taken a hit in the polls, much of it pretty clearly due to aggressive press investigations involving her relationship with the Clinton Foundation when she was Secretary of State. Even Hillary fans should see that these investigations are warranted. After all, Clinton is running for the most powerful office in the world. While she was Secretary of State, her husband was overseeing a $2 billion a year charity. That charity took in donations from foreign governments and individuals with international interests. These facts raise legitimate questions. Did donors to the Foundation get special access to the secretary and the department as a result of their donations? If they did get special access, did they receive any favors? Did Hillary or her staff do anything illegal, unethical, or contrary to U.S. interests or administration policy?

The good news is that as a result of these investigations we can now answer those questions pretty definitively: no, no, and no. The bad news is that the press doesn’t seem to want to take “no” for an answer, even if the answer is based on the evidence of its own reporting.

Consider the story in today’s New York Times by Eric Lichtblau based on a new batch of emails released by the conservative group Judicial Watch as part of its lawsuit. The emails show that Doug Band, then with an arm of the Clinton Foundation, asked Huma Abedin, a top aide to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to help him procure special diplomatic passports for himself and two other Clinton Foundation staffers. Band also asked for a private meeting between Secretary Clinton and Dow CEO Andrew Liveris, a Clinton Foundation donor. These emails, writes Lichtblau, raise “new questions about whether people tied to the Clinton Foundation received special access at the department.”

The reporting in the piece itself, however, doesn’t so much raise new questions as answer old ones. As Lichtblau explains, Band wanted the diplomatic passports because he and his colleagues were about to accompany Bill Clinton on an emergency mission to North Korea to negotiate the release of two American journalists (as a former president, Clinton already had such a passport). In the end, State didn’t issue special passports to the Foundation staffers, despite the risks they were taking, because doing so would have been contrary to Department rules. Liveris did get a short meeting with Mrs. Clinton for a perfectly valid reason: he had offered to let Mr. Clinton use his private plane to fly to Pyongyang.

Other stories on the Clinton Foundation over the last two weeks fit the same basic pattern: the facts dug up by the investigation disprove the apparent thesis of the investigation. Last week, for instance, the Associated Press shook up the political world with an enterprising investigation showing that more than half of the 154 private sector individuals Secretary Clinton met or talked with during her first two years at State had donated to the Clinton Foundation, ether directly or though their companies or groups. That “extraordinary proportion,” said the AP, indicates “her possible ethics challenges if elected president.”

But aside from the AP’s questionable math—the 154 meetings were gleaned from Clinton’s calendar, and no one seriously doubts that over two years she met with far more private sector individuals than that—the story’s own reporting undermined the case that anything unethical occurred. As its main example, the story cites meetings with and calls on behalf of Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunis, whose Grameen Bank had contributed to the Foundation. Yet Yunis is not some shady financier who gave money to the Foundation to gain access to the secretary. He’s a Nobel Prize-winning pioneer of “micro-lending” to the world’s poor whom Clinton has known and worked with for 30 years. And the calls she made in support of Yunis were part of an international effort to keep the Bangladeshi government from forcing the beloved humanitarian out of Grameen on trumped-up charges. Other examples in the piece of donors getting “access” are similarly benign (one of them was the Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel).

The same passive-aggressive quality pervades all the recent stories about the Clinton Foundation. There is the big LA Times investigation about how Doug Band tried to get a State Department meeting for a donor, a Nigerian-based Lebanese billionaire. Though possibly sketchy, the billionaire had on-the-ground knowledge of the political machinations in Beirut, so was probably worth talking to, but in any event the meeting never occurred. There is Politico’s deep dive into the hitherto untold story about how the federal government made payments to the Clinton Foundation for IT equipment and staff.   While strongly suggesting that the payments were highly questionable, the authors concede that their investigation “does not reveal anything illegal.” Indeed, the payments were from a program Congress created more than half a century ago specifically to fund the work of ex-presidents, money every ex-president has taken advantage of, and the piece offers ample evidence from documents obtained from the General Services Administration that the GSA’s bureaucrats and the Foundation’s staff carefully followed the rules.

Thanks to the publishing of these investigations—most of which took many months of dogged effort to produce—we now have a tremendous amount of granular information about the Clinton Foundation’s relationship with the State Department and with the federal government generally. In virtually every case we know of, it’s clear that Hillary and her staff behaved appropriately.

Yet instead of accepting the evidence of their own investigations, much of the mainstream media expresses the attitude that these are still wide open questions. In its recent lead editorial calling for the Clintons to cut their ties to the Foundation immediately (the Clintons have said they’ll do so if she wins), The New York Times concedes that the latest batch of emails does not “so far” show that Hillary gave any special favors to Clinton donors while at state. On the cable shows, even the few journalists who acknowledge the lack of any evidence that Hillary and her staff did anything untoward feel the need to insist that the next batch of emails could prove otherwise.

And of course in theory it could. But as Nancy LeTourneau has observed, there is phrase for those who insist on keeping a controversy going long after enough facts are in to draw reasonable conclusions: “Merchants of Doubt.” The label comes from the book about a loose group of scientists who helped corporate and conservative political interests sow doubt in the public’s mind regarding the certainty of the science linking tobacco to lung cancer and fossil fuels to global warming. It’s the same strategy creationists use when they lobby school boards about gaps in the fossil record and how it’s important and fair-minded to “teach the controversy” about evolution.

Another way of looking at it is that the press is beginning to treat the Clinton Foundation story the way the Republican still treat Benghazi. The legitimate questions surrounding that incident—What were the precipitating events that lead to the deaths of four diplomats? What might the federal government have done differently to prevent it?—were basically answered when the first after-action press investigations and the 2012 Accountability Review Board Report were published. Keeping the controversy alive with half a dozen more congressional investigations was just a way for Republicans to rough up Clinton.

The GOP at least had an obvious political motive for refusing to admit the obvious on Benghazi. Why the mainstream press is refusing to concede the facts of its own investigations on Hillary and the Clinton Foundation is not so clear. But unless it stops that behavior and starts speaking honestly, and soon, there’s a very real chance it could throw the election to Donald Trump.

All The News That Gives You Fits — Charlie Pierce on the New York Times’ chin-stroking over the Clinton coverage.

Oh, for the love of god, mother Times. Are you freaking kidding me?

It’s long past the point where many of our major news publications be sent to the dogtrack with their names pinned to their sweaters, at least as far as the Clintons are concerned. Right now, there is substantial evidence that many of them will print anything as long as they can wedge “Clinton,” “questions” and “e-mails” into a headline. Of course, if Hillary Rodham Clinton would just hold a press conference, at which every question would feature those three words in some order or another, then we’d all turn to discussing the comprehensive mental health plan that she released to thundering silence on Monday when most of the press was in an Anthony Weiner frenzy. Yes, and I am the Tsar of all the Russias.

But this latest iteration of The Clinton Rules is probably the most egregious one yet. From the Times:

A top aide to Hillary Clinton at the State Department agreed to try to obtain a special diplomatic passport for an adviser to former President Bill Clinton in 2009, according to emails released Thursday, raising new questions about whether people tied to the Clinton Foundation received special access at the department.

That sounds bad. Was the guy trying to smuggle hash in a diplomatic pouch? Visiting Thai brothels in a government jet?

The request by the adviser, Douglas J. Band, who started one arm of the Clintons’ charitable foundation, was unusual, and the State Department never issued the passport. Only department employees and others with diplomatic status are eligible for the special passports, which help envoys facilitate travel, officials said.

Well, that’s that, then. Let’s turn to the sports section and see how the Mets are doing. Wait. What?

Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign said that there was nothing untoward about the request and that it related to an emergency trip that Mr. Clinton took to North Korea in 2009 to negotiate the release of two American journalists. Mrs. Clinton has long denied that donors had any special influence at the State Department.

Jesus H. Christ on Dancing With The Stars, that’s what this is about? Bill Clinton’s mission to get two American journalists out the hoosegow of The World’s Craziest Place? Wasn’t that a triumph? Weren’t we all happy about it? Hell, this was so surreptitious and “questionable” that HRC even wrote about it in one of her books.

I thought the bombshell in Tiger Beat On The Potomac about how Bill Clinton questionably availed himself of services to which he was legally entitled as an ex-president was going to be this week’s most prominent parody of investigative journalism. (After all, it got to drop the ominous “taxpayer money” into the conversation right next to “private server,” which one of the endless parade of dingbats shilling for the Trump campaign used on CNN just this morning.) But this story puts that one in the ha’penny place, as my grandmother used to say.

Consider how it is constructed—to believe that there is even any smoke here, let alone any fire, you have to believe that the Clinton Foundation was somehow shady in its dealings with HRC’s State Department, which is assuming a lot of actual facts not in evidence. That enables you to believe that an unsuccessful attempt to arrange diplomatic passports for what ultimately was a successful mission of mercy is proof of said shadiness. It also forces you to loan your journalistic credibility to a monkeyhouse like Judicial Watch.

This is crazy. This makes the way Dave O’Brien used to run the ball for Joe McCarthy look like Seymour Hersh on My Lai.

In related developments, The Washington Post revealed Thursday that David Bossie, head of Citizens United and noted stalker of cancer patients, is now part of the high command working to elect El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago. There are now no rats left unfcked in that operation, and it’s going to be damned hard to get a table for Happy Hour Friday night in the cocktail lounge of the Mena Airport.

Bonus Track: James Fallows on the same subject.

Doonesbury — Same old song.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Banished

Donald Trump has banished the Washington Post from his campaign because he thinks they treat him unfairly.

Donald Trump said Monday that he was revoking The Washington Post’s press credentials to cover his campaign after the publication gave him “incredibly inaccurate” coverage.

[…]

Trump had suggested earlier in the day on Fox News that President Obama’s response to the worst mass shooting in U.S. history showed he was either secretly working with terrorists or else naive about terror threats. The Washington Post’s headline on a story on the comment read, “Donald Trump seems to connect President Obama to Orlando shooting.”

“Donald Trump’s decision to revoke The Washington Post’s press credentials is nothing less than a repudiation of the role of a free and independent press. When coverage doesn’t correspond to what the candidate wants it to be, then a news organization is banished,” The Post’s Executive Editor Martin Baron said in a statement.

“The Post will continue to cover Donald Trump as it has all along – honorably, honestly, accurately, energetically, and unflinchingly. We’re proud of our coverage, and we’re going to keep at it,” Baron said.

There have been a slew of reporters and publications that have been denied access to Trump’s campaign events, including The New York Times, BuzzFeed News, Telemundo, Politico and The Des Moines Register.

I can’t help but think of the parallel between this and gun control.  Those in favor of anyone and everyone having a gun say that banning a certain type of gun won’t do anything because if people really want a gun, they’ll get one.  Does Mr. Trump think the Washington Post or any other organization will stop reporting on him because he has a fit of pique?

Well, one could only hope.

As for the story itself about Trump implying that President Obama was in cahoots with the terrorist; well, that’s exactly what he was dog-whistling to his base.  He just got busted for it by the Post, that’s all.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Mic Drop

Charlie Pierce peered in to some of the Sunday shows and watches with wonder and trepidation when the press is going to start doing their effing job.

…[T]his week’s House Cup goes to my man Chuck Todd, who always has been the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. Todd had He, Trump over for a chat and, after a few minutes of stunning incoherence on the subject of election law, we were treated to this amazing moment of television.

TODD: Wait a minute. Let me stop you there. You just said, “Businesses might pay a little bit more.” You just said, “Business might pay a little bit more, but we’re going to get ’em a massive tax cut.” You just said it within ten words.

TRUMP: No, no. I didn’t say it. Excuse me. I said they might have to pay a little bit more than my proposal, Chuck. I said they might have—

TODD: Oh, your proposal. Okay. I just wanted to get that clear.

TRUMP: —yeah, than my proposal.

TODD: Fair enough.

TRUMP: I’m not talking about more than they’re paying now.

TODD: Got you.

TRUMP: We’re the highest taxed nation in the world. Our businesses pay more taxes than any businesses in the world. That’s why companies are leaving. So they may have to pay a little bit more than my proposal, is what I mean. I assume you knew that. I assume you know that.

TODD: Got you. Okay. No, no, no, no. I just wanted to clear that up.

TRUMP: Okay, good. Good, I’m glad you cleared it up—

Forget that little pat on the head there at the end. My man Chuck Todd had He, Trump pinned. The way you know that is that He, Trump had to resort to a barefaced non-fact about how we are “the highest-taxed nation in the world.” (This is not within an area code of the truth. Criminy, even PolitiFact noticed.) And what do we get for pushback? “Fair enough” and two “gotchas.”

This is going to be a real crisis for elite political journalism from now until November, perhaps the deepest crisis elite political journalism has faced since the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, and that one didn’t turn out well at all. The Republican Party is about to nominate an utterly truthless fellow who doesn’t know how much he doesn’t know and is prepared to lie his way past everything he doesn’t know anyway. I’m afraid that elite political journalism is so wedded to “balance” that it is in no way prepared to cope with a post-reality candidate. (Professor Krugman shares this concern.) “Fair enough” and “gotcha” are not appropriate answers to the assertion by a candidate that he plans to heal the national economy by setting up a roulette wheel and two blackjack tables in the Department of the Treasury.

If hope is not a plan, then bluster and bombast are even less of one. Elite political journalism has a greater responsibility to the Republic than “balance” or “objectivity.” This is going to be a long six months.

This is the same Chuck Todd who told America that it’s not his job to correct misstatements by candidates or mouthpieces.  Which makes him about as relevant and as useful as the guy holding the mic on the Home Shopping Network.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Unequal Treatment

Predictions of violence at political rallies have been a part of the scene for a while now, and on Saturday the New York Times went in to painful detail to point it out.

In foreboding conversations across the political world this past year, a bipartisan chorus warned that the 2016 presidential campaign was teetering on the edge of violence.

The anger from both sides was so raw, they concluded — from supporters of Donald J. Trump who are terrified they are losing their country and from protesters who fear he is leading the nation down a dark road of hate — that a dreaded moment was starting to look inevitable. “I don’t see where that anger goes,” the historian Heather Cox Richardson predicted a few weeks ago, “except into violence.”

This weekend it finally arrived.

Ah, yes, it only took them to the second paragraph to get to the great equivocator — both sides do it — before launching into a description of Friday night’s melee that canceled Mr. Trump’s rally in Chicago.

Despite the fact that what remains of the GOP field is laying this squarely at the feet of Mr. Trump — of course they have their motives for blaming him — it is the mantra of the media to play the objectivity card by saying that both the Democrats and the Republicans are angry and therefore the inevitable fisticuffs or worse will break out.

Now both Republican and Democratic leaders are predicting a long, grim and pugnacious phase of the presidential race.

“I’ve gotta believe it’s only gonna get worse,” said William M. Daley, the son of Chicago’s famed mayor, Richard Daley, who presided over the violent 1968 Democratic convention. “Both sides are fueling this,” he added.

The problem with that is that so far no one has reported any scuffles at a Bernie Sanders rally.  Hillary Clinton hasn’t ordered her security detail to “get ’em out” when a person heckled her.  And if anyone seriously thinks that somewhere in some boiler room in Brooklyn or Burlington there’s a plan to send out infiltrators to disrupt Trump’s rallies, I have a few conspiracy theories I’d like to sell them at bargain prices.

It’s always a safe retreat to blame both sides so that that reporters make it sound so objective and boil it down to a false equivalency.  It makes it easier for the bullies to say “It all started when he hit me back.”

Monday, November 9, 2015

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Sunday Reading

Now What? — Suzy Khimm in The New Republic on where the Religious Right goes now.

It’s been a rough stretch lately for Christian social conservatives, whose nightmare came to life this past summer with the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage in Obergefell vs. Hodges. But the annual Values Voter Summit kicked off this past weekend in Washington with shouts of jubilation, as activists celebrated the unexpected news that House Speaker John Boehner would be resigning amid the fight over social conservatives’ effort to defund Planned Parenthood or force a government shutdown. “Yes!” one man shouted above the deafening cheers and applause on Friday morning after Senator Marco Rubio interrupted his address to announce Boehner’s exit from the podium. “Amen!” shouted another.

Later, on Friday evening, another packed room at the Omni Shoreham would erupt once again when Kim Davis, the defiant country clerk from Kentucky, took the stage to accept an award for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. “I am only one,” Davis told the crowd in her brief remarks, her voice rising to a shout. “But we are many!”

It was a pent-up primal scream that these Christian culture-warriors have long been waiting to unleash. While these triumphal moments may have been fleeting—Boehner almost surely won’t be replaced as speaker by a hardcore social conservative, and Davis’s stand has done nothing concrete to advance the cause of religious liberties—the urge to cheer for something was easy to understand; right about now, evangelicals will take whatever victories they can get. Ever since the religious right’s political power arguably peaked in 2004, when President George W. Bush and Karl Rove made gay-marriage bans a centerpiece of their re-election strategy, social conservatives have watched helplessly as their “family values” agenda fizzled, as the tide increasingly swam against them on gay marriage, and as Tea Partiers replaced them as the most coveted constituency for Republican candidates to court. While they’ve had great success in enacting abortion restrictions in many states, they’ve seen popular support for much of their once-ambitious policy agenda erode.

Despite the hallelujahs, what this year’s summit ended up highlighting was not the resurgent power of Christian conservatives in the Republican Party, but how much their influence on the policy debate has diminished outside of the issue of abortion. As usual, most of the major GOP presidential contenders—even the unlikely figure of Donald Trumpcame courting the crowd of 2,700 who’d registered for the event. But they offered little besides effusive praise for Kim Davis and utterly vague—if not utterly unrealistic—promises to champion religious liberties in the White House. When the summit-goers left Washington to scatter back to their hometowns across America, they left with no clear idea of what to fight for next on gay marriage—or how.

Get To Know Jorge Ramos — William Finnegan at The New Yorker profiles the Univision anchor and best-known journalist you’ve never heard of.

When Jorge Ramos travels in Middle America, nobody recognizes him—until somebody does. Ramos is the evening-news co-anchor on Univision, the country’s largest Spanish-language TV network, a job he has held since 1986. A few weeks ago, I was on a flight with him from Chicago to Dubuque. Ramos, who is fifty-seven, is slim, not tall, with white hair and an unassuming demeanor. Wearing jeans, a gray sports coat, and a blue open-collared shirt, he went unremarked. But then, as he disembarked, a fellow-passenger, a stranger in her thirties, drew him aside at the terminal gate, speaking rapidly in Spanish. Ramos bowed his head to listen. The woman was a teacher at a local technical college. Things in this part of Iowa were bad, she said. People were afraid to leave their houses. When they went to Walmart, they only felt comfortable going at night. Ramos nodded. Her voice was urgent. She wiped her eyes. He held her arm while she composed herself. The woman thanked him and rushed away.

“Did you hear that?” he asked, at the car-rental counter. “They only go out to Walmart at night.”

In an Italian restaurant on a sleepy corner in downtown Dubuque, a dishwasher came out from the kitchen toward the end of lunch to pay her respects. She, too, fought back tears as she thanked Ramos for his work. He asked her how long she had been in Iowa. Five years, she said. She was from Hidalgo, not far from Mexico City, Ramos’s home town. She hurried back to the kitchen.

“We have almost no political representation,” Ramos said. He meant Latinos in the United States. “Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz won’t defend the undocumented.”

“A Country for All,” Ramos’s most recent book—he has published eleven—is dedicated to “all undocumented immigrants.” He was trying to explain how a journalist finds himself in the role of advocate.

“We’re a young community,” he said. “You wouldn’t expect ABC, or any of the mainstream networks, to take a position on immigration, health care, anything. But at Univision it’s different. We are pro-immigrant. That’s our audience, and people depend on us. When we are better represented politically, that role for us will recede.”

Besides co-anchoring the nightly news, and cranking out books, Ramos hosts a Sunday-morning public-affairs show, “Al Punto” (“To the Point”), and writes a syndicated column; for the past two years, he has also hosted a weekly news-magazine show, “America with Jorge Ramos,” in English, on a fledgling network (a joint venture of Univision and ABC) called Fusion. (When Jon Stewart asked him, on “The Daily Show,” to account for his hyperactivity, Ramos said, “I’m an immigrant. So I just need to get a lot of jobs.”) His English is fluent, if strongly accented. His Spanish, particularly on-air, is carefully neutral—pan-Latino, not noticeably Mexican. Univision’s audience comes from many different countries, and the network broadcasts from Miami, where the most common form of Spanish is Cuban.

Ramos occupies a peculiar place in the American news media. He has won eight Emmys and an armload of journalism awards, covered every major story since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and interviewed every American President since George H. W. Bush. (He’s interviewed Barack Obama half a dozen times.) But his affiliation can work against him. In June, when he sent a handwritten letter to Donald Trump, who had just launched his Presidential campaign, requesting an interview, it was no dice. Univision had cut its business ties with Trump, including its telecasts of the Miss U.S.A. and Miss Universe beauty pageants, after Trump accused Mexico of sending “rapists” to the United States. Trump posted Ramos’s letter on Instagram, crowing that Univision was “begging” him for interviews. The letter included Ramos’s personal cell-phone number, which Ramos was then obliged to change. In the weeks that followed, Trump produced a stream of provocative remarks and proposals about Mexicans and immigration, giving the national immigration-policy debate the hardest edge it has had in generations. Now Ramos really wanted to interview him.

Signs Of The Times — Michael Paulson in the New York Times on the revival of the musical “Spring Awakening” with deaf actors.

Staging a Broadway show is always a three-dimensional chess game. But this “Spring Awakening,” which uses eight deaf actors, eight hearing actors and seven onstage musicians, has added another layer of complexity and sparked a burst of theatrical innovation.

Musicals, after all, are built around sound, and ordinarily it is a beat, a lyric or a spoken phrase that signals to an actor when to walk on or walk off, when to begin a speech or a song, when to start a step. But for this “Spring Awakening,” the director Michael Arden, the choreographer Spencer Liff and the actors themselves have devised an array of silent cues: hidden lights, coded gestures, timed touches and prompting props.

“Spring Awakening,” a darkly tragic drama about adolescent sexuality in a repressive community, was written as a play by Frank Wedekind in 1891, and then adapted into a rock musical by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik in 2006. The adaptation was a hit on Broadway — it won eight Tony awards, including for best new musical, provided starmaking roles to Lea Michele (“Glee”), Jonathan Groff (“Hamilton”) and John Gallagher Jr. (“American Idiot”), and ran for just over two years.

Mr. Arden, who has been collaborating with the Los Angeles troupe Deaf West Theater since appearing in their Broadway revival of “Big River” in 2003, thought that “Spring Awakening,” which he viewed as “a cautionary tale about the perils of miscommunication,” would have great resonance with a deaf cast. Both “Big River” and this “Spring Awakening” had two productions in Los Angeles before transferring to Broadway.

Without altering the Sater-Sheik book or lyrics, Mr. Arden has added a new context for the story. The deaf actors portray deaf students in a school that does not allow the use of sign language, implicitly nodding to a historical event (contemporaneous with the play’s setting in late 19th-century Germany) in which an international conference of educators called for the mandatory and exclusive use of oralism (lip reading and speech) when teaching deaf students.

In one scene, a teacher, played by Patrick Page, can be seen threatening students who use sign language, attempting to train the deaf to speak by having them feel, and then mimic, the movement of his mouth and throat, and by having them watch the impact of vocalizations on a feather held in front of the face.

In this “Spring Awakening,” which opened to good reviews on Sept. 27, the deaf actors are at the center: Mr. Arden has asked the cast, and is now expecting audiences, to focus attention on the signing, not the singing. The deaf actors are often downstage and lighted from the front; their hearing partners are generally lighted from behind, and in ensemble numbers the cast members look toward the signers.

“It is highly important that the performance is the deaf actors’, and the hearing actors are following their intention — we get in trouble if we get ahead of them,” said the actress Camryn Manheim, a onetime sign language interpreter who is making her Broadway debut playing several adult women in the show.

Doonesbury — Bigfooting.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Crime Report

This is both scary and ridiculous.

A Washington Post reporter who was arrested at a restaurant last year while reporting on protests in Ferguson, Mo., has been charged in St. Louis County with trespassing and interfering with a police officer and ordered to appear in court.

Wesley Lowery, a reporter on The Post’s national desk, was detained in a McDonald’s while he was in Missouri covering demonstrations sparked by a white police officer fatally shooting an unarmed black 18-year-old.

A court summons dated Aug. 6 — just under a year after Lowery’s arrest — was sent to Lowery, 25, ordering him to appear in a St. Louis County municipal court on Aug. 24. The summons notes that he could be arrested if he does not appear.

“Charging a reporter with trespassing and interfering with a police officer when he was just doing his job is outrageous,” Martin Baron, executive editor of The Post, said in a statement Monday. “You’d have thought law enforcement authorities would have come to their senses about this incident. Wes Lowery should never have been arrested in the first place. That was an abuse of police authority.

Good luck sneaking that one past the First Amendment.